It’s stressful to be a god

April 4, 2010 | 42 comments

During Lent, I resolved to pray more frequently. I committed to setting aside more dedicated, focused prayer time, and I did a pretty good job of sticking to it. I prayed about how I wanted certain events to turn out in my life, what I needed for spiritual growth, my worries about various situations that weren’t going the right direction, etc. — I poured it all out in prayer.

I found it odd, then, when a couple weeks into Lent I felt more frustrated than ever.

In fact, I found myself with that certain angsty lack of peace that I’ve come t recognize as a symptom that something is out of whack in my spiritual life. How could that be, given that I’d actually been praying more?

One afternoon I was just about to settle in for prayer time, a million little problems and concerns weighing on my mind that I wanted to pray about, when I came across some spiritual writing that led me to one of those “this should have been totally obvious but was actually a major revelation” moments. I realized:

I hadn’t been thinking about Christ.

Of all the extra minutes I’d poured into prayer during Lent, not a single one had been dedicated to thinking about who God is, what he’s done for us, who we are in comparison to him, what his nature is like — to be honest, I was barely aware of his presence. To read a transcript of my prayers, you would have thought that the One to whom I was speaking was my wish-granting genie.

Obviously, it’s a good thing to tell God everything that is on your mind; the mistake I made was that that was the only thing I was doing in prayer. And the result was that my own concerns began to grow and grow and grow in my mind…and my understanding of God began to shrink. The end result was that I’d made myself a god.

When I realized that that afternoon, I dedicated that entire prayer time to thinking about the life of Christ. I spent a while meditating on his miracle at the wedding at Cana, then I lost myself in the mystery of his baptism. When my prayer time came to an end, I hadn’t had any time to think about my own problems. When I realized that I’d focused on God instead of myself, I was overwhelmed with a certain feeling:

Complete, utter relief.

In his great book Praying with Icons, Jim Forest says that “contemplation of the face of Christ can save us from the hell of fear-driven selfishness.” And that’s exactly what I’d been experiencing: the hell of selfishness, driven by fear that I would suffer too much or I wouldn’t be happy or things wouldn’t go the “right” way if I wasn’t in control.

As I know from an entire lifetime of making myself a god, at first it’s fun. The world revolves around you! You don’t need to mess around with sticky concepts like trust or humility — you set your life up so that you control everything since, after all, you know what’s best. There’s no room for patience, since your will must be done immediately. You certainly don’t need to waste any time on charity since nobody has it all figured out like you do.

But as time goes on, and your status grows in your own mind, you start to feel the weight of it all; when you make yourself a god, you assume the responsibilities of a god: being everywhere at once, taking care of everything, having an answer for every possible dilemma. You must plan, plan, plan to make sure that everything goes the right way, and then come up with infinite backup plans in case those plans don’t work out — after all, you alone hold the entire universe in existence.

It’s stressful.

As Lent went on, I found that the more deeply I delved into Christ’s birth, earthly life, death and Resurrection, the less interest I had in thinking about all those other things that bothered me. I found bottomless peace in the contemplation of who God is, who I am, and what our respective responsibilities are. I fell back and landed in the soft place of understanding that I am not the one in charge; and, I see now, I wouldn’t even want to be.

Happy Easter, everyone! It’s good to be back.
If you’d like to share anything you learned during Lent, I’d love to hear it!


  1. tootie

    It's great to have you back! I learn so much from your posts, this one included.

    Happy Easter!

  2. Anonymous

    Happy easter to you & your family!!
    Thanking & praising the Lord for the brand new week ahead!!

  3. Judith

    This Lent I've discovered how easy it is for me to be un-focused. Keeping on track with the prayer and fasting I'd committed myself to was harder than I thought it would be.
    Humiliating …..
    but I did learn something about myself. And I am now trying to learn to lean more on HIS grace and less on my behavior.

  4. Gina

    I just learned a LOT, thanks to you. ๐Ÿ™‚ I really appreciate this post. It came at just the right time.

  5. Anonymous

    I learned that I need to put myself in God's position sometimes, His position as a parent. I have to imagine myself to be in a position where I have to choose to allow my son to be tortured and killed so that the rest of the world could be saved, or I could allow my son to live a regular life and not care too much about the rest of the world. Most parents are self-ish about their child…naturally they want the best for their child, because if their child is ever suffering it means that they as a parent are also suffering… parents don't give too much thought about the rest of the population- give or take a small percentage of some other people here and there (relatives, friends, the poor for the brief moment that it takes to write a check to the charity organization). But not God. I mean, it is so hard to imagine God's love for us. He loves ME AND YOU so much! And yet, I act as if I don't believe Him sometimes. I disregard how much He says I am worth. God says I am worth it- worth it to the extent that He would allow His own son to be tortured and killed. He says I am worthy of a high-quality life, worthy of a relationship with Him- the most loving creater of all the earth. He says I am worthy of a life that makes my heart full (a life free of sin). But sometimes, by sinning, I act as if He never allowed His son to suffer and die for me. I need to trust God with who He says I am by loving myself fully. God views us all as saints, saints who sin, but still saints. And we can't give up on ourselves and choose not to value ourselves because He says we are worth it and God never gives up on us! I shouldn't put other people's opinions of me before God's. I shouldn't base my worthiness on how other people see me or how they treat me, on how much money I make or what I have or what I give, but instead on what God thinks of me and He thinks the world of me- as He does of you.

    I also learned that I need to view myself as God's child more often as well, not just someone living in His world, but His actual child. We are all children of God. As my Father, He wants the best for me and His word tells me how to achieve that. All I have to do is trust my Father.

    This video helped me to understand this parent-child relationship a little better. If you haven't seen it, I warn you that it is very powerful and caused a non-cryer to cry:

  6. Kathleen's Catholic

    This is a fabulous post! Thank you for giving us something very powerful to think about and put to good use.

  7. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    This Lent didn't turn out at all like I thought. I ended up confronting some issues I've been having and making strides toward resolving them. My insomnia has taken a marked turn for the worse, just as my 3 year old decided to give up naps and isn't getting enough sleep herself. (Any advice would be super appreciated!!! – for my insomnia or her lack of sleep :>))

    A comment I read on a story (Surrender the Choosing) over at Faith & Family Live has really stuck with me, though. It read, in part: "God gave you this Lent. And He will give you your Easter." That has popped into my mind countless times in the past few weeks. And I'm so thankful to say that God has given me the grace to deal with a tired, cranky 3YO even though I'm running short on sleep. What a blessing!

  8. Tom

    Here's a related passage from C.S. Lewis:

    "Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate.

    "It would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favorites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: 'I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.'

    "Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, 'Why hast thou forsaken me?' When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle."

    -from "The World's Last Night and Other Essays"

  9. Mama Bean

    Welcome back ๐Ÿ™‚ I missed you.

    I also had a Lent revelation – I sat waiting for God to show up in the space of the things I gave up for Lent, instead of actively seeking/praying into that space.

    Happy Easter!

  10. Roxane B. Salonen

    Dear Jennifer, it's so great to hear your voice again! I am enjoying being back more fully in the online world as well. But it was perhaps one of my best Lenten experiences yet. I just returned from a vigil for my friend, Ryan, who passed away on Holy Thursday. Everyone who spoke talked of what a kind, faithful man he was, and that was what I saw in Ryan, too. He experienced a beautiful death, even while being ravished with cancer. He was ushered into heaven with the singing of the Litany of Saints by his family. And tomorrow, I will sing the psalm at his funeral Mass. Hearing his friends and family talk tonight, I was reminded of how I hope to die. I was reminded that death is not the end. I was reminded that death is sad, but it is still just the beginning. I am not done yet learning all that Lent revealed to me — perhaps that's the greatest lesson of all. Alleluia!!! (Can't say it enough…)

  11. Sarah

    Jen, I am so glad that you are back. So glad. And this post – WOW. WOWOWOWOW! Thank you for being able to write about the things that are not only hard to DO, but also to explain. You do it so well, and so simply. Thank you! Happy Easter!!!!

  12. Marian

    "Gaze on God. Glance at the need."

    Happy Easter!

  13. Tess

    Christ is risen, alleluia!

    A recurring theme this Lent was the idea that this moment is as much a part of God's plan for me as all the highlights and obvious road markers are. I must be present in this moment, uniting myself to His Will now. I can't skip ahead, and I shouldn't waste this time by fretting about what is to come or what I am supposed to do.

    I also learned on Good Friday that I believe I am worth the sacrifice of the Cross. God created me specifically and purposefully, knowing the price He would have to pay for my salvation. Knowing what His Son would endure for me, He still gave me life… who am I to say any different? And if I'm worth that to Him, I'm worth a lot!

  14. Charity

    On Palm Sunday, when I thought my sins were light, I felt the weight of them on the shoulders of Christ. His blood was so heavy on my head, I could not bear it.
    That night at confession, I gave the cross up but received no penance. I was bewildered and empty. In the great silence came the excruciating storm of agony and gratitude as the fire rushed in to fill the void.
    On Wednesday I fasted in a bleak, desolation of deserts. Forsaken as I lay dying. A stubborn suicide to myself.
    On Thursday, I was in heaven with all the angels and saints as our prayers curled up into the light at the altar. In all the beatific glory, I looked down and saw a flash; Him at my feet, a servant so near that I was breathless at His brazen presence. Shocking intimacy of my heart's delight. A burning tumult of execution. Where he is, let me be there too. Let me not utter a sound as I am sawn in two.
    Could this nuptial glimpse be a fortification before my own passion? Will he ask for the piece that I keep behind????
    Friday I fast mundanely. I do not see his cross in the darkness,but only my own. I am alone.
    As soon as Lent ends, the world returns. The TV is on too long. We tell jokes at the table. There is flour and butter on the floor. Delicious delicious eating. Impatience. The dishes pile. The bed gets wet. Easter is swallowed in a sleepless rush of expectations and joy.

  15. Helen

    Man, was this the uncomfortable kick in the pants that I needed.

  16. Kathleen@so much to say, so little time

    I learned that there is enormous freedom in *not* paying attention to what the stat meter has to tell me! The trick now is to add my "fast" items back in without becoming overwhelmed again.

  17. NC Sue

    Darn, you've done it again – crawled inside my brain and verbalized my own spiritual state.

    Thank you for this post!

  18. Anne

    Welcome back and a very blessed Easter season to you and your family.

    This post makes so much sense! From now on, when I struggle with lack of peace, I will remember that I should turn my focus to who God is in my life and what he has done for me,instead of on what it is that I want.

  19. coffeemom

    Well, nothing like a post that knocks it right out of the park to start back….and perfect for this Easter monday. Glad you're back!! Smashing good post! PErfect.
    Now I go to pray, again attempting to do it the better way…thank you!

  20. Anonymous

    As an antidote to all the "chattering to God" that I usually do…asking for things or voicing my own concerns, my spiritual director has recommended that I use some of my prayer time to experience being in the presence of God, in silence. A good prayer to focus on in these times, "Speak Lord, your servant listens."

    I'm working on it. Sometimes it's hard for me to silence my own inner voice.

    As always, I appreciate your thoughts.

    Jen G

  21. Denise Fath

    This Lent I learned how easy it is for something to start God-focused and quickly devolve into being about me.

    Anyone have any favorite methods or ideas to try and stop that from happening?

  22. 'Becca

    Great post! I have struggled with this issue myself many times, including during this Lent. I also thought of you yesterday when I forced myself to rush from church to a birthday party to cooking Easter dinner without a moment's rest, despite the small voice in my mind urging me to observe this holiday by resting–aargh.

    I learned a lot during Lent, little of it what I "planned" to learn; I hope to write 7 Quick Takes on it by Friday.

    I was wondering, Do you ever pray with rosary beads? That is something I tried for the first time during Lent. I know there is a very structured set of prayers for Catholic rosaries; I don't know if that is supposed to be the ONLY way you use them. Being an Episcopalian, I made an Anglican rosary (4 sections of 7 beads) and there are many ways to use them. One that's been extremely helpful for me is releasing 14 worries and then experiencing 14 joys. Even when I feel completely freaked out, it is hard to think of 14 distinct things to worry about! And then as soon as I turn the corner and start naming joys, they start to overflow and I quickly run out of beads.

    Alleluia! Happy Easter!

  23. jird

    My Lenten revelation was of the sort that was so obvious and basic as to make me feel dumb even sharing it, but here it is: I am often frustrated by my children's stubborness and disobedience. I find myself thinking, "Why is it SO HARD for them? Why don't they just do what they know I expect of them and what I have told them? It would make their lives so much easier!" And somehow, for the very first time this past week I thought of that from God's perspective, and how very often I completely ignore what I know he expects of me. I was humbled and embarrassed, and I hope that it will help me in my attempts to be a light for God as much as it helps me have more understanding of my children.

  24. Gina

    beautiful post! it is poignant and a simple reminder to me about how I should spend some of my prayer time! thank you, and happy Easter!

  25. Sandy

    Thanks for reminding me what prayer is supposed to be about….hope you don't mind but I'll be adding you to my favorites and stopping by regularly ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Laura

    Thanks, I needed that today. Now that Lent is over, I feel like all of the things I had decided not to think about during that time all came rushing back and overwhelming me. There was no peace in my heart today, and I think it is exactly because of what you described. How fast we lose our perspective…
    God Bless.

  27. brian carlson

    Thank you so much.
    I think I'll be sharing this with my home group.
    I'll be thinking about this quite a bit.
    Thank you.

    Erica, on her husband's log in.

  28. Lisa

    Our pastor pulled me up short with this same observation during a sermon at Christmas. It was unnerving to realize how selfish I was being when I thought I was being pretty pious. Yikes. But very good thing to realize. Still, though,gotta keep reminding myself that it's not all about me. Even all these months later, your reminder has drawn me up short again.

  29. Amber

    During Lent I was quite certain that God wanted me praying the rosary everyday and to be meditating on the sorrowful mysteries. It was a very powerful experience, and definitely helped me to better understand what prayer is supposed to be about. I've never been a big rosary devotee, but this experience has changed me for the better.

  30. Mary Elizabeth

    Jen, Don't laugh but please read this and help me out a little bit? I was looking back through your archives and read your summary of what you believed at that point and saw you basically where I am now 1. Intelligent design=true (check) 2. Seems like there is good evidence the God of the Bible exists/may be responsible for said design. and 3. "Once you truly believe in God it's pretty easy to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. The evidence there is pretty compelling." Here you lose me. I could use some help getting to this point. The difference is I am a cradle catholic who loves the history, wisdom and tradition of the Church, has a strong connection to God the father, the Holy Spirit and Mary (go figure) but basically no real emotional/intellectual connection to Jesus except that my world view falls apart without him so I have just taken him on part and parcel with the lot. I have four sons (4,3,1 and 3 mos) and we have been talking a lot about the crucifixion and resurrection and it has become apparent to me that if I am to raise men of faith I must try to cultivate mine and that the mustard seed of plausibility that I have now for Chris' divinity isn't enough. How did you get to point 3? Any insights you can offer would be great. Thanks.

  31. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    Thank you all for your comments. It's been fascinating to read what everyone else has been shown this Lent.

    Mary Elizabeth – great question. If you get a sec, would you email me? I'd love to answer your question but my brain is a bit fried from a long day right now, and I'm afraid I'll forget if it's not in my inbox. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Thank you all again and happy Easter to you all!

  32. Paula

    Wow, how timely… I have been having just this feeling about my own prayer lately. Thank you for sharing your "no-brainer" solution… it certainly didn't occur to me, and now I feel energized about trying to pray with a new approach.

  33. Sibyl

    "But we all, with open face beholding as in a mirror, the glory of the Lord, are changed from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.

    II Corinthians 3:18

  34. Shelley

    Thanks so much for your post! It definitely spoke to me as I, too, have been focusing on me in my prayer life (when I have been praying – it hasn't been good for awhile unfortunately). I need to focus more on the Lord during prayer (and other times in my life as well).

  35. Maggie Dee

    Beautiful post!! I gave up reading blogs for Lent, it's so good to be back. ๐Ÿ™‚

    My husband returned to the Catholic church and the rest of our family (myself, and our two kids) became Catholic this Easter Vigil. We're walking on air and in awe of God's blessing and grace.

    I think the two most important lessons I learned this Lent is that God loves me and I'm not the Holy Spirit. I've known in my head for a long time that He loves me, but now I know it in my heart. And if he can get through my thick skull he can definetly get through to my kids. It's been just a feeling of peace to know that my job is to plant the seeds of faith in my kid's life but that the Holy Spirit is the gardener. I'm not sure why it didn't dawn on me before but that revelation has been such a weight off of my shoulders. I can guide them and direct them and PRAY, but the rest is up to them and God.

    Also, surprisingly, what I thought would be the scariest thing ever…The Sacrament of Reconciliation, has been the most amazing blessing.

    Happy Easter!

  36. Dean

    How much room "I" takes! Thank you for the reminder. So happy to have you back.

  37. Jess

    I learned the meaning of "Be still and know that I am God" Psalm 46:10.

    God wants us to me mentally still. Forget the worrying, stressing, & fixation on the past, present and future. None of that compares to the fact that God is in your heart and you are in His.

  38. Carrien

    I had that experience once with "worship" songs. so many of the churches we attended sing songs that are focused mostly on the writers experience of worship rather than on the personality of the God they are worshiping. Something I dislike.

    I remember walking one Sunday into a new church, near where we had just moved too and the first three songs were about God, who he is, what he does. I started crying and turned to my husband and said, "It's so good to come to church and hear about who God is for a change. That's what I need to hear about on a Sunday morning, not how a song writer feels."

    It's not just in prayer that we need to remember to stay focused on Christ, but in everything. (well, duh, but I had to say it anyway.)

  39. kate

    This post was so encouraging to me.

    During Lent, I decided to give up complaining. A week in and it felt like my kids were out of control and my husband was driving me crazy. I think the kids may have gotten sick too. So that whole complaining thing, out the window.
    Just this week I started thinking about food and why I can't seem to resist putting something in my mouth. On a quest to lose the baby weight, this didn't bode well.
    Today I realized that there is no possible way i can do this on my own. The Lord needs to transcend my thoughts and often times, my hands from picking up food.
    Just today I reflected on the fact that my life needs to be a reflection of Him and of His life. How can I be a reflection if I don't know Him or spend time learning about His life and ministry? I want my body to be a temple. I want to get rid of the excess that causes all those emotions (anger, frustration, lack of patience) all which are directly related to me eating foods in excess or those that aren't healthy.
    Your saint diet has inspired me. I'm going to look at it and see what changes I can make. But the first change I need to make it putting His word throughout my house so that I am set on it daily.
    Thank you for your blog. Your story of conversion is amazing and proof that the Lord is master over all.

  40. Jim and Nancy Forest

    I am one of those people who happened to stumble on your fascinating blog — in my case because of the mention you made of my book, Praying With Icons.

    Your comments about how prayer becomes a dead-end street when it's too self-absorbed remind me of a passage on prayer from the poet W.H. Auden: "To pray is to pay attention to something or someone other than oneself. Whenever a man so concentrates his attention … that he completely forgets his own ego and desires, he is praying."

    in the risen Christ,

    Jim Forest

  41. Abbey

    I think the majority of people are guilty of this. I believe God knows what is on your heart, so when one prays, thanksgiving is so crucial. When I realized that I was always praying for what I wanted, and not thanking and recognizing Him, I felt awful!! There is always so, so much on my heart, so I acknowledge to Him that He looks into my heart and sees my needs, and then I spend more time in devotion to Him.

    Great post!!

  42. Anonymous

    Wow, this post left tears in my eyes, as I realized that this is how I so often pray. Thank you for yet another inspiring post.


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